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To make Catholic schools charters, city could try to skirt state law

When Mayor Bloomberg announced his intention to turn four struggling Catholic schools into charter schools, observers assumed that the plan would require a change in state law. The law currently bars private schools from becoming schools that are funded with public dollars.

Now, it appears that the city is considering circumventing the state altogether, reports Gail Robinson of the Gotham Gazette. The calculation is that asking legislators to change state law according to Bloomberg’s wishes could backfire against his push to retain control of the public schools. The mayor angered some lawmakers when he pushed a bill extending term limits through the City Council last fall, and state lawmakers have also accused him of abusing his authority over the schools.

Robinson reports that city officials and other charter school advocates are focusing on the fact that the state law prohibits converting private schools, but not closing them and reopening them with changes in place:

This could work in a number of ways. The schools could officially close in June and then reopen. Some staff might have to leave or there could be come kind of interim or alternative certification similar to what’s done by Teach for America or the Teaching Fellows program. While the schools would have to be open to all students, the number of applicants might be small enough to all but ensure everyone a seat. After all, as [CEO of the NYC Center for Charter School Excellence James] Merriman noted, one reason the diocese is closing many of these schools is that they are vastly under-enrolled. New organizations could be set up, perhaps including individuals who work for the church but also parents, community members, alumni and others, to serve as the chartering organization and so on.